NEWS & ANALYSIS

The fried chickens are coming home to roost

Andrew Donaldson writes on Jacob Zuma's imminent appearance before the Zondo commission

A FAMOUS GROUSE

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THE former president, Jacob Zuma, has agreed to appear before the Zondo commission. At the same time, his lawyer, Daniel Mantsha, has cheekily claimed the commission is biased against his client and lacks “requisite impartiality”.

This is a cunning pre-emptive tactic ahead of what commentators suggest will be a combative encounter on July 15, and a course of action that will no doubt endear all concerned towards Mantsha and his client’s cause.

Who knows, but perhaps before proceedings get underway commission chair Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo will graciously allow Mantsha a few minutes to remind commissioners of the sort of deference his client will be expecting from them.

As it is, Mantsha is no slouch when it comes to the requisite impartiality that is necessary at such times and he can boast of experiencing first-hand the sort of prejudice that is a result of the lack thereof. He was struck from the roll in 2007 when a court ruled that he was not fit to practice as an attorney and declared that the public needed to be protected from him.

In 2011, he successfully reapplied to be allowed to serve as an attorney, and managed to avoid the limelight until 2015 when he emerged as special adviser to then-communications minister Faith Muthambi. 

As a floundering public servant whose core incompetencies were matched only by her personal charm, Muthambi was certainly in need of a special advisor — although whether Mantsha was the one for the job is debatable. 

Readers will recall that, in 2017, the DA wanted Muthambi to face criminal charges for misleading Parliament. One wonders, then, who was guiding Muthambi when she elected to lie to an ad hoc committee investigating the SABC board. 

This is potentially not very encouraging. Never mind their lack of requisite impartiality, judicial commissions and the like tend to have a very dim view of perjury.

More importantly, it’s worth noting that, also in 2015, then-public enterprises minister and Gupta lackey Lynne Brown appointed Mantsha as non-executive director and chairman of the board of arms manufacturer Denel for a three-year term. 

It could be said that, for want of a suitable phrase, Mantsha was thus wholly “Brown enveloped” into the state capture project. In fact, according to the Daily Maverick, Mantsha was captured to such an extent that only Mosebenzi “S Class 650” Zwane, the former minister of mineral resources, was in deeper with the Guptas.

It is quite understandable, given his experience in such matters, that Mantsha should then have emerged as Zuma’s lawyer, after Accused Number One terminated the services of his previous legal representative, Michael Hulley, in June last year.

That gig lasted 12 years or so, a fairly lucrative brief, as they say. But so what? The law’s not cheap and, anyway, the taxpayer was footing the bill. 

Or rather, the continuing stream of bills; given Zuma’s ongoing legal hassles and his determination to prolong the inevitable forevermore, this was like a herd of cash cows marching into a chasm that was never going to be filled. Who could blame Mantsha for wanting some of what was dispensed with unfettered abandon into the Hulley gully?

Encouragingly, Mantsha appears to be considering the greatly vaunted Stalingrad defence favoured by his predecessor, and there is now some indication that he too hopes to wear down legal adversaries through interminable bad play and draw the matter out until the Second Coming in a quest for requisite impartiality.

Historians will however remind you the siege of Stalingrad started on September 8, 1941, and ended on January 27, 1944. That’s a mere two years, four months, two weeks and five days — little more than a passing moment in comparison to the long haul it’s taking to get Zuma into the dock. 

It’s probably more accurate, then, to talk of a Troy defence — although that particular siege, which lasted a decade, did not end particularly well for the Trojans.

Mantsha’s chief beef is that he doesn’t know what sort of questions the commission will be asking his client — and the commission’s not telling him either. 

I may be going out on a limb here, but I think it’s fair to suggest that, on the contrary, both Mantsha and his client have a very good idea of exactly the sort of questions the commission will be asking. 

In this regard, the commission has said that as far as they’re concerned, it was enough that Zuma be allowed to share his version of events in response to testimony from previous witnesses on issues that related to him.

But Mantsha believes that the commission is up to some form trickery, and is intending to publicly humiliate and “ambush” the former president with a “descension into the political arena” rather than pursue its mandated “truth-finding” objectives.

Well, fear not. A little prep is all that’s needed to steer clear of the traps and pitfalls ahead. And of course a cool head.

Much has been written in the form of guidelines for those who have been called to give evidence to committees of inquiry, and these can be easily found on the internet. The advice offered can be summed up thus: arrive early, compose yourself, and answer questions carefully, fully and honestly.

That last bit may pose a few problems. In which case, I would suggest, yet again, that JP Donleavy’s The Unexpurgated Code: A Complete Manual of Survival and Manners, is most instructive, especially for those who are reluctantly due to appear before an investigating committee:

“Dress soberly in the current fashion and always wipe the dirty looks off your face. Avoid hand wrenching, lip licking and eye darting. At the very beginning of proceedings apologise for any involuntary tremors, facial tics, quakes or quavers. And if you must chew gum to quieten your nerves be sure in disposing of it, to stick this well in under your chair or table. There is nothing worse than when squirming your knee gets smeared with this viscous matter.

“Smile once in a while and don’t be afraid to laugh along with the committee especially when they are laughing at you. Remember fairness, if not forgiveness, is the hallmark of these sessions. When caught in a lie retract and apologise immediately. Unless of course they keep catching you, in which case, absolutely avoid shrugging your shoulders. Instead at your next earliest opportunity demonstrate your eagerness to get at the facts by prefacing your answers with. 

“‘I’m really glad you asked that.’ 

“At all times be polite and respectful. When the committee have you dead to rights it is permissible, in order to gain their understanding and sympathy, to allow tears to well in your eyes. But don’t overdo this with outright sobbing. Above all, never stand up shouting and shaking your fist and accusing the committee of being themselves just a bunch of chisellers, frauds, liars and cheats who just happen at that point in time not to be under investigation. It is always appreciated that no one is free of human fault but that some happen to be at certain times freer than others.”

There will, of course, be some shouting and shaking of fists from Zuma supporters outside the commission when he testifies. Perhaps struggle gerbil Carl Niehaus will put in another small but thunderous oratory and even do a bit of spastic dancing. 

But enthusiasm for the former president is waning and I suspect the show of support will pale in comparison to previous demonstrations by the happy meal hordes. One has to pay one’s own way now, and the fried chickens are coming home to roost.

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